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The following is the full, unedited context of an interview of Chris Jentsch conducted by Molly Sheridan (of the internet magazine NewMusicBox.org) on the occasion of the American Composers Forum Grant Announcement in 2002.
Molly Sheridan: Congratulations on your
Composers Commissioning Program award. What is the importance of this
award for you at this point in your career?
| profile rooms, Kavehaz,
the Internet Cafe (when it was running music), etc. It seems like almost
anybody can get booked into these rooms, and the gigs pay basically nothing
if you don't bring in your own audience. Sidemen often outstrip the earnings
of the group leaders and the public relations worthiness of these events
becomes bland without some other concept to tie in. There are few prospects
for wider coverage in this circuit.
The staleness comes in when the only people who come out to these gigs are the group of people you already know or other people who do the gigs - so the publicity can become a little incestuous. In the past, being part of this sort of underground movement has been a way to "create a buzz" that the media is eventually unable to ignore, but this scene (which has been in existence for decades) offers jazz-related instrumental music for the most part, perhaps even sounding avant-garde to the casual ear. It is not grass-roots alt-rock or a variant of popular music such as what came from the Bowery in the seventies, or later from Athens, GA or Seattle. I'd love to move up to the Vanguard at some point, but I can’t really justify it if I haven't developed enough of an audience.
Basically it comes down to building that audience, and in this case, exposing the music to new ears so that the people who might like it do actually get the chance to encounter it. With so many "entertainment options" in the twenty-first century there is a good bit of competition. Radio is bleak and oppressively formatted, and press coverage is hard to scare up, especially with music that does not fit into one of those established radio-ready formats. I'm not saying my music is hyper-original, but it is some sort of personal amalgam of jazz inclusive of other genres that I don't hear on the radio – and jazz radio stations tend to be just as conservative and formatted as any of the other stations.
Now it looks like this award will be the centerpiece of a project that may be supported by as many as three additional grants, including a possible follow-up performance at a "high-profile" industry convention, and interest in a possible studio recording and release by a boutique label (instead of issuing it myself). In these cases where there is such a confluence of support, the events become more interesting to the people who follow your music, record labels, the wider jazz community, the education community, and to the media (including the reviewers at those popular "jazz glossies"). This magical new credibility results in an increase in visibility all around, and by extension, a precious channel to reach more of those new ears.
MS: Would you have been able to write this piece without it?
CJ: It would have taken a lot longer, with no reason to mark a firm deadline as I would be scrounging around trying to set aside personal funding and the logistical wherewithal to mount a major seventeen-person project myself. The performing ensemble, Jentsch Group Large, is my own in this case, so that makes it even more difficult financially and logistically that there isn’t a separate ensemble taking care of the musicians, the rehearsals, the performance, and the venue (in which case I would just be doing the writing). But this should still be a vital career boost for the opportunities/excuses for "quality networking," help with the publicity, the speed with which various things are coming together, and the focus provided to create this event. Writing it on my own would have been one thing; having this valuable chance to disseminate it in order to take advantage of other opportunities for different kinds of growth down the road is another. One can grow artistically without such support, but I know from past experience that certain aspects of the craft are only learned during the actual presentation within the live emotional dynamic at the center of such a synergy of forces. The event of a larger attentive audience within an environment of support creates a unique kind of energy, and a heightened familiarity of working with that energy is a somewhat esoteric, yet important aspect of this award.
MS: As a composer and music maker, what do you see as your role/place in current American society?
CJ: That's a hard question to answer without sounding pretentious. I guess I consider myself an artist interested in the process of discovering things about music and life, and in communicating these ideas with other musicians and listeners. Stopping right there with my answer is an option, but I think that concept should be important for what has become such a product-oriented culture that could benefit from music developed from personal process. The dissemination of mass-culture is less organic and more regulated than it has ever been before. This could change, but maybe my "role/place in American society" so far is as an important luxury toward the continued development of that society. Not myself in particular, but for all of the many composers and musicians operating unnoticed by the media and under the radar of wider popular recognition. After all, the underground has always fed the over-ground.